As he prepares to take office on Monday, incoming Lafayette City-Parish Mayor-President Joel Robideaux already has chosen much of his leadership team. But a few key positions remain to be filled by the first new chief executive for Lafayette in 12 years.
Robideaux, an accountant and longtime state legislator, said he’s kept a busy schedule since his October election, pulling together a transition team, meeting with key staff members and trying to get a handle on the complexities of his new job.
“Most of the time has been on personnel issues. I would say that has been the lion’s share of the transition,” he said.
Yet to be determined is what signature initiatives of outgoing Mayor-President Joey Durel will be continued or scrapped and what new initiatives Robideaux might launch as his own.
He said early plans include rethinking the University Avenue exit off Interstate 10, a gateway he says does little to sell the city to outsiders.
“We need to come up with a solution to make it look like you’re driving into a college town,” Robideaux said. “I’m talking about more than just beautification. That’s the project coming out of the gate that I’m going to start working on.”
Robideaux said early on he did not intend to “clean house” when he replaced Durel, who served three terms and was barred from seeking a fourth, and many familiar faces will remain in the new administration.
Lafayette Utilities System Director Terry Huval, Fire Chief Robert Benoit and Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups all will keep their jobs. Huval has served as LUS director since 1994, Benoit has been fire chief since 1993 and Toups has served as CFO since 2011.
Carlee Alm-LaBar, Durel’s chief development officer, has been named director of the Department of Planning, Zoning and Development. She will replace Eleanor Bouy, who announced her retirement earlier this year.
Tom Carroll, who retired in 2014 after serving for 10 years as Durel’s director of public works, will return to serve as interim public works director pending a national search to fill the position.
Durel’s most recent public works director, Kevin Blanchard, stepped down earlier this year to take a private-sector job that was in the works since before Robideaux’s election.
Robideaux said Becky Perret and Cydra Wingerter will continue their work in the Mayor-President’s Office as executive secretary and chief communications officer, respectively.
But some of Durel’s key administrators are out.
Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley, who ran against Robideaux and lost, will be replaced by oilfield service company executive Lowell Duhon, and Robideaux has chosen longtime Lafayette attorney Paul D. Escott to replace Mike Hebert as city-parish attorney.
Robideaux also is bringing in new administrators for the Community Development Department and the Information Services and Technology Department.
Yet to be determined is who will replace Police Chief Jim Craft, who is retiring Jan. 31 after 10 years leading the force.
Robideaux said he plans to select an interim chief, pending a national search to fill the post, and Craft has agreed to assist in the transition.
Robideaux also is bringing back one staff member whose job was eliminated in a 2009 departmental reorganization by the Durel administration.
Marcus Bruno worked with housing inspectors, police, prosecutors and fire officials to address blight and crime issues, but Durel argued a dedicated position was not needed for the work, despite protests from residents in north Lafayette, council members representing the area and a prominent judge.
Robideaux said Bruno will resume many of his old duties in his new role as government and constituent relations officer.
“I think what he was doing was a service to the city,” Robideaux said.
Bruno also was the point man in so-called nuisance abatement litigation to force property owners to address problems of repeated drug violations, noise, junked vehicles and building code violations.
Many of the lawsuits targeted rental property, and owners faced the prospect of having apartments boarded up if they didn’t agree to work with city officials to address the issues.
Such litigation was rarely pursued after Bruno’s departure, but Robideaux said the enforcement tool is back on the table.
“We are going to hold property owners accountable to be good citizens. I don’t think that’s asking too much,” he said.
Robideaux said he is still reviewing some major initiatives carried over from the Durel administration.
The new mayor-president generally supports the redevelopment of the old federal courthouse site downtown, which Durel had pushed unsuccessfully for six years, but Robideaux doesn’t see progress until there is consensus.
The major sticking point has been a contingent of council members, judges and others who believe the site should be reserved for a new parish courthouse.
“I don’t see a path forward until all the players involved agree on a path forward,” Robideaux said.
The Durel administration had been negotiating the purchase of the troubled Lesspay Motel at the intersection of University Avenue and Cameron Street, hoping to tear it down and build a police substation and public plaza in its place.
The council voted last year to declare the substation and plaza project a “public necessity,” opening the door for a forced sale.
A key supporter of the proposal, Brandon Shelvin, was voted off the council in October, and Robideaux said he feels conflicted about moving forward.
“I may have some hesitation of going and taking private property,” he said.
Robideaux also is unsure about a road project Durel identified as a top priority in the final years of his administration.
The South City Parkway extension would offer a new route over the Vermilion River in south Lafayette, stretching from Robley Drive to Verot School Road.
City-parish traffic engineers have said the South City Parkway extension would be a badly needed relief valve for Ambassador Caffery Parkway.
City-parish government has begun preliminary engineering work and started negotiations to buy the right-of-way for the road, but Robideaux said other options should be explored.
“I may come to the same conclusion — that it’s priority No. 1 — but I’m not there now,” Robideaux said.